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It's a Chip, So It Must Be Secure

Ransomware, mulch, and a chip can all be tied together, or at least I will be doing that here.

Let’s start with mulch. It is something found at every garden center as well as around way too many shrubs and trees (Fig. 1). It is recommended for this use, but unfortunately these are actually bad recommendations. Those burial mounds around trees cause secondary roots to grow around the tree, among other things. It is a slow death for the trees.

1. Putting mulch around a tree is not a good idea unless you want to kill the tree.

The reason I bring up mulch is because of the bad recommendations and the misunderstanding of most people about it. Spreading bad advice is not a good thing regardless of whether it is for the lawn or garden or for computers.

And now for the tie-in.

I was recently at my sleep doctor’s where I ran into similar bad advice, or at least understanding. I have sleep apnea and snore, but the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine allows me to get a good night’s sleep without snoring (Fig. 2). This one has an SD card to record its operation plus a cellular modem to send the data to the cloud.


2. The CPAP machine I use has an SD card to record its operation.

Normally the doctor wants to see these results, so I thought I would pop the SD card, copy it to a USB flash drive and bring them with me to the appointment, where they could read the information. They took the flash drive when I arrived. They returned later and explained that they could not use the flash drive. It seems the recent uptick of ransomware has made everyone a bit wary. This is actually good and quite reasonable. What followed was an explanation that was more on par with what I have heard with respect to mulch.

The person that returned the flash drive explained to me that they needed the CPAP machine so they could use the “chip” to get the information. I confirmed that they would be pulling the SD card and putting it into an SD card/USB adapter and plugging that into the PC that they were not allowed to use with my flash drive. In their mind, this was safe.

I received some surprised, or horrified, looks when I explained that the “chip” adapter just turned the SD card into a USB flash drive and that a virus or Trojan Horse application could be easily placed on the SD card. Still, they seemed to think that using the “chip” would be allowed.

Now, I have looked at the contents of the SD card. They are binary files and a text configuration file. I am hoping they have an application that simply reads this information and does not auto-execute an application if it was placed on the flash drive somehow. Likewise, I am hoping that incarnation of Windows on their PC is configured properly to prevent this type of attack.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings about the use of mulch and SD cards can result in unintended consequences because of their improper use. I definitely do not want ransomware floating around our hospital’s computer network and I do not use mulch around my house, although I do use a lot of compost.

By the way, they eventually got the doctor the information from my CPAP machine, via fax. 

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